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Hydroquinone Alternatives

By Noreen Kassem ; Updated July 18, 2017

Hydroquinone is an active chemical compound with the scientific name 1,4-benzendiol. It is added to ointments and creams to decrease the appearance of dark areas and spots on the skin. While hydroquinone does not bleach skin as popularly believed, it does reduce the production of melanin, which is secreted by melanocyte cells to give skin coloring. Hydroquinone is an effective treatment, but it can cause several adverse side effects as noted by These include skin thickening, darkening and inflammation as well as toxic effects such as diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and convulsions if ingested in large quantities. There are several alternative and safer compounds that have a similar effect on the skin as hydroquinone.

Azelaic Acid

Azelaic acid is a chemical compound that is made from barley, wheat or rye and is a common ingredient in skin creams used to treat acne. However, it is also beneficial in treating skin hyperpigmentation. mentions that studies in South America and in the Philippines showed that a 20 percent azelaic acid solution was better or equal in treating darkened skin spots as a two percent solution of hydroquinone. Most notably, azelaic acid did not cause the skin irritation caused by the compound hydroquinone.

Kojic Acid

Kojic acid is produced from fermented rice and fungus such as mushrooms and is also a chemical compound that can lighten melasma caused by excess pigment in the skin. It is thought to be just as effective as hydroquinone in treating skin pigmentation problems without causing the sensitivity and toxic reactions. This natural substance oxidizes quickly and must be stored in a tight bottle away from heat and light.

Malic Acid also lists malic acid as an effective alternative to hydroquinone. This chemical substance is derived from pears and apples and is an exfoliating alpha hydroxy acid. It reduces pigmented spots and areas on the upper layer of skin by gently increasing the exfoliation of dead and damaged skin cells. Though it is a safe ingredient, malic acid should still be used in moderation and as prescribed to avoid skin irritation and sensitivity reactions.


Arbutin is a skin care ingredient that is derived from the leaves of the mulberry, cranberry and blueberry plants. It is considered to be the natural form of hydroquinone, according to Arbutin works with a similar mechanism as hydroquinone, by suppressing the production of excess melanin.

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